John Snow’s maps revisited

April 26, 2007 at 3:00 am Leave a comment

Max & TylerAn earlier post talked about the 1854 cholera outbreak in the Soho district of London and Dr John Snow’s efforts to identify the source of the outbreak. Spotting patterns in the clusters of death and sickness, Snow produced perhaps one of the first epidemiological maps. In a nice twist of fate, Who is Sick? is a modern day version of Snow’s work and a Google Maps mashup. The Who is Sick? blog says that the purpose of this new service is to “create a community contributed resource that (is) helpful to the public. We are on a mission to provide people shared information that can mutually help the community. Open Source, User Generated Content, Power to the People. Wisdom of Crowds.

User-generated maps of sickness can be filtered by symptoms like runny noses; coughs; chicken pox etc. I decided to check out my fellow Sydneyites and see how many of us have gone down with flu. Here’s the Who is Sick? map for Sydney Australia. So far, 21 people have reported coughs (24%) and runny noses (24%). Users can post details of sicknesses including how many days they’ve had particular symptoms; there’s a discussion forum; and users can also receive alerts of outbreaks in their area.

Hot on the heels of a recent post, where I outlined future trends and the possibility that private health insurers may ultimately control our personal information, I wonder how Who is Sick? will evolve down the track. Seems like a great concept because normally to find out information about outbreaks of flu etc in your area, you watch TV (possibly in vain); you hear news of colleagues sniffling away at home; and you hope you don’t catch the latest bug. So Who is Sick? is potentially a great way for the citizenry to take control of health intelligence and it might even contribute to tracking down the source of an outbreak (although at the moment the service seems to be concentrating on colds and flu). But if you’re sniffling away tucked up in bed, you might not think to post details of your symptoms on the site. So its success will ultimately depend on whether people think it’s a useful service.

But is this Web 2.0 for the hypochondriacs amongst us?

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Entry filed under: Cartography, Curiousity, Web 2.0.

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